Orange County SC will travel to Casino Arizona Field to play the Phoenix Rising FC this Saturday, June 15, 2019. It is the second USL Championship match-up of the year between the two fierce Western Conference rivals. Phoenix comes into the game with 23 points, currently good enough for 2nd position in the conference, while Orange County is currently in 10th, and would not qualify for the playoffs if they started today. However, as seems to be the story every week in the tightly packed West, the two clubs are separated by more positions than points. With 19 points, Orange County is just 4 points behind Phoenix, and would move within 1 with a victory. They also won the first match in Orange County back in May. Orange County comes into the match on a 7 game unbeaten run, although that is not as impressive as it sounds given that 5 of those have been draws. Phoenix comes in having won 4-in-a-row, with their last loss coming in the aforementioned game at Orange County. Most recently they thrashed Tulsa Roughnecks 5-0 last Friday.
These two clubs have played a lot of games against one another over the past 5 years, and it's no secret that they don't like each other. Last season, they played each other four times, culminating in an extremely physical match-up in the Western Conference Championship game that was eventually won by Phoenix on a goal by the legendary Didier Drogba. With the expansion of the USL Championship, this second meeting of the year will be the last of the regular season between the two. However, Orange County's +3 goal differential suggests that they will be a playoff team the time the season is done. Don't be surprised if these two end up seeing each other at some point in the playoffs.
Phoenix Rising vs Orange County SC Vital Information
Referee assignments have referee Victor Rivas at center pitch, with Noah Kenyawani and Melissa Beck as the assistants, and Marco Villa will be the 4th official.
This will be the 20th meeting all time between Phoenix Rising and Orange County SC. In the previous 19 meetings, Phoenix has won 8 times, Orange County has won 6 times, and there has been 5 draws. It was an Orange County victory in the most recent of those, 2-1, at Championship Soccer Stadium at OC Great Park, back on May 4, 2019. Last season the two clubs met three times in the regular season, resulting in a win for each club, plus a draw.
Five Points That Shouldn’t be Overlooked
After falling at the final hurdle last season, Phoenix added roster depth this offseason in hopes of lifting the big trophy at the end of the season. They got off to a shaky start, drawing each of their first 3 games. Their season hit a low point on April 17, 2019 with a loss to the Austin Bold FC that dropped them to 1-3-1. Since then they are 5-1-1, with their only loss, the above mentioned game to Orange County.
Orange County had a rough start to their season, losing 2 of their first 3 games, and drawing the other. They have still not completely recovered in the standings even though they have lost only one time since. However, the biggest reason they are outside of playoff position right now has been their inability to close out games as of late. They have 5 draws in their last 7 games, and their 7 draws on the season are tied with Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC and New Mexico United for most in the USL Championship.
Everyone knows about Phoenix Rising FC's offense firepower, and they are currently tied with New Mexico for the league lead in goals with 31. Perhaps, what has been more impressive though is their defense. Their 14 goals allowed through 13 games don't quite tell the whole story. Phoenix surrendered 5 goals in their first 2 games of the season, meaning they have allowed just 9 goals in their past 11 games. Goalkeeper Zac Lubin has an impressive 6 clean sheets in 10 starts, but it's the guys in front of him that have been the story. Lubin has faced just 31, on target shots or 3.1 per game. When the ball has gotten to him, he has been good as well, turning away 25 of those 31.
Orange County is lead in scoring by Darwin Jones, who has six goals on the season. Aodhan Quinn has 5 goals and has added 3 assists. This pair of 27-year-olds give Orange County a solid veteran scoring duo. However, 23-year-old Jamaican Michael Seaton, who has 4 goals on the year, will miss the game due to Yellow Card accumulation. Phoenix will be missing a pair of Jamaican's as well, with the duo of Junior Flemmings and Kevon Lambert, off at the CONCACAF Gold Cup. (Note: In my last article I mentioned that Flemmings would not be playing due to the Gold Cup, but he did end up playing, and ended up being named to the USL Championship Team of the Week. By this coming Saturday, he will however be with his National Team.)
Phoenix's +17 goal difference is by far the best in the Western Conference. New Mexico is next best at +9. However, they have been truly impressive over this past 4 game winning streak that they are on. Over the course of the four game they have outscored their opponents by a margin of 16-3, mean that they are +13 over this past four games!
Phoenix Rising vs Orange County SC Prediction
You know a rivalry is getting intense when supporters start creating their own Twitter hashtags about it. As is tradition. Phoenix Rising fans have been, and will be tagging Tweets this week with
#OrangeCountyHateWeek. As can be seen by their head to head records, these two clubs have been pretty evenly matched throughout their history. Just over 300 miles apart on the I-10 some have dubbed this the In-N-Out Derby (well I have at least) in reference to the famous burger joint the you will inevitably end up eating at somewhere along the road from Phoenix to Orange County. Orange County took the first match at home, but at that point in the season Phoenix had not really found their form yet. They now seem to be firing on all cylinders, especially at home. This is a game that you have to figure Head Coach Rick Schantz has had circled on the calendar, and I expect that Phoenix will bring their A-game. That being said, nothing is ever easy between these two and I expect it to be an extremely physical match. Don't be surprised if you see at least one send off before 90 minutes expire. I see Phoenix taking this one, but I expect it to be a one goal game, and I expect to see balls pinging off of the woodwork down the the last seconds of stoppage time.
Prediction: Phoenix Rising 3 Orange County 2